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Land

Land Tenure: What have we learned four years after approving a set of international land tenure guidelines?

Gregory Myers's picture
Asilya Gemmal displays her land certificate, given by
the Ethiopian government, with USAID assistance.
“Congratulations, today your baby is four years old,” Iris Krebber, DFID/UK recently emailed me. Iris was not referring to a child, but rather the Voluntary Guidelines for the Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forest (VGGT), an agreement I had the challenging pleasure of bringing to life by chairing a UN negotiation process that resulted in the first globally agreed recommendations for addressing land, fisheries, and forests governance. Often colleagues don’t remember my name, but they call me “the land guy,” which I suppose is better than the “dirt guy.”

The call for an international set of guidelines came from many quarters between 2008 and 2010, but was largely driven by concerns raised in international fora by civil society, member states, development partners, and the private sector. These concerns primarily pertained to food security (and specifically food price spikes) and access, and rights to land and other resources by small, medium and large scale producers as they impact investments in food production systems.  

One of the more notable concerns driving the development of the Guidelines was related to large scale land acquisitions (including what some organizations may sometimes refer to as “land grabbing”). Through a technical process FAO developed the initial draft of the Guidelines, and then initiated a process of input and consultation over two years before the document was given to the UN Committee for World Food Security (UN CFS) for negotiation.

As the subject of land rights can be very political (no international guidance can address the plethora of land challenges from Latin America to Africa to Asia and beyond with one-solution fits-all-problems), and civil society organizations, member states, and the private sector often have different views and needs in achieving their respective objectives, you can imagine it was not an easy task for CFS to agree to a set of guidelines.

How to help communities protect their lands

Rachael Knight's picture
Kenya Land Alliance facilitates a meeting
with the community of Chara, in Tana
River county

The scale of the global land grab is staggering. While international actors have made excellent progress establishing complaint boards, issuing principles for responsible investment, and securing commitments from multi­national corporations, these protections do not chart a clear course of action that communities can follow to protect their lands and natural resources before an investor arrives seeking land. 

The problem is that once an investor arrives to “consult with” a community, it may be too late.  After a deal has been made in capital city conference rooms or in clandestine meetings between chiefs and company representatives, communities are forced on the defensive. At this point, all they can do is try to mitigate the negative impacts of investors' plans rather than assertively proclaiming their legal rights, demanding that the investor abide by FPIC principles, and then choosing whether to reject the investment or accept it on terms that ensure that the community benefits and prospers.

Meanwhile, many of the “investors” grabbing land are national or local elites unaccountable to international  institutions  –  the cousin of the President or the nephew  of the Minister – who operate with complete impunity, protected by powerful connections to government, the judiciary and the police. Such individuals do not answer to shareholders or complaint boards, and are not the least bit concerned with principles of corporate social responsibility. If a community’s land claims  are unrecognized or undocumented – and if the community’s leadership is weak or corrupt – the easier it is for these elites to manipulate their power to claim what land they want.

To have a fighting chance against elites’ bad­faith actions, communities must proactively take steps to know and enforce their rights, prevent their leaders from transacting land without community approval, and seek legal recognition of their land claims.  And they must do so before elites and investors arrive. 

Learning the lessons of land protection from Africa’s justice advocates

Rachael Knight's picture

Looking out onto irrigated fields, NigeriaRural communities across Africa face a variety of threats to their customary and indigenous land and natural resource claims. The drivers of these threats are diverse: increasing foreign investment, national elite speculation, rising population densities, climate change, and national infrastructure mega-projects, to name a few.
 
The introduction of such external destabilizing influences often sets off a cascade of resulting intra-community challenges. In most communities, the challenges are multiple and overlapping: the divisive tactics of investors may pit community members against one another; state infrastructure development may claim the communal areas communities depend upon for their livelihoods and survival and create intra-community conflicts over scarce resources; elites seeking land may make back-room deals with leaders, undermining community trust of local leaders.
 
Land rights advocates and practitioners are frequently called upon to support communities facing such issues. However, when practitioners engage deeply with these communities, it often becomes clear that a multiplicity of factors and trends have weakened the communities’ ability to respond effectively to the conflict or threat – therefore requiring use of a variety of simultaneous strategies to ensure successful outcomes. The threats and trends are often directly and cyclically linked, with negative trends exposing communities to additional threats.

Blog post of the month: “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources

Rachael Knight's picture

Boundary tree planting committeeEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In May 2015, the featured blog post is " “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources".

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, investors are increasingly approaching rural communities seeking land for logging, mining, and agribusiness ventures. In response, international and national advocacy organizations are stepping forward to provide support to communities in negotiations with investors, often with a focus on ensuring adherence to international laws such as the right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).[1] Yet even in situations when investors have followed FPIC principles and conducted a formal “consultation” to seek community consent to their proposed business venture, these consultations are generally conducted in a context of significant power and information asymmetries. Communities are frequently pressured by high-level government officials to consent to deals that they do not fully understand or desire. Community members may not be aware of the rental value of their land on the national market, the expected annual profits the investor will gain from the venture, the overall net worth of the investors’ company, and other financial information critical to negotiating a fair contractual agreement, including the value they themselves are deriving from their common lands. As a result, they have difficulty calculating an appropriate rental cost that leaves them in an equal or better position than before the investment.

“We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources

Rachael Knight's picture
Members of the Sihan Clan planting a boundary tree, Rivercess County, Liberia

Communal land, forests, and water sources are essential to the survival of many communities around the world. However, investors seeking resources may negotiate contracts that do not include rental payments. To address this imbalance, Namati and its partners designed an activity to empower communities to grasp the inherent value of their common areas to them, so that they can reject inequitable contract offers and negotiate contracts that will lead to community prosperity.

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, investors are increasingly approaching rural communities seeking land for logging, mining, and agribusiness ventures. In response, international and national advocacy organizations are stepping forward to provide support to communities in negotiations with investors, often with a focus on ensuring adherence to international laws such as the right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).[1] Yet even in situations when investors have followed FPIC principles and conducted a formal “consultation” to seek community consent to their proposed business venture, these consultations are generally conducted in a context of significant power and information asymmetries. Communities are frequently pressured by high-level government officials to consent to deals that they do not fully understand or desire. Community members may not be aware of the rental value of their land on the national market, the expected annual profits the investor will gain from the venture, the overall net worth of the investors’ company, and other financial information critical to negotiating a fair contractual agreement, including the value they themselves are deriving from their common lands. As a result, they have difficulty calculating an appropriate rental cost that leaves them in an equal or better position than before the investment.

Reflections from Hells Gate National Park

Jan Mattsson's picture

​​​​​​Jan Mattsson visits Hells Gate National Park, KenyaJan Mattsson, a member of the Inspection Panel, describes his fact finding mission to Kenya and the truism that every case is unique and every case is complex.

I was recently appointed a Panel Member of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, and I am blogging from the Rift Valley, Kenya where I am participating in my first fact finding mission related to a complaint filed by Maasai communities. The project in question is the Kenya: Electricity Expansion Project, which was funded by both the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and has financed the construction of a geothermal plant within the Hell’s Gate National Park.

The project is geared to addressing Kenya’s growing demand for electricity, as only one out of four Kenyans have access to the national grid.  As with all countries, the growth of the economy and social development efforts relies on a reliable supply of electricity. The use of geothermal energy has the advantage of reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and being climate friendly, as well as lessening dependency on hydro-power resources in Kenya.
 

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Aid Transparency Index 2014
Publish What You Fund
The 2014 ATI results follow the trends observed in previous years. A lead group of organisations are making significant and continuous improvements to the information they publish on their current aid activities – and many others have taken steps towards improving their publication in 2014 – but the majority have not made significant progress and continue to lag behind.
 
12 ways to communicate development more effectively
The Guardian
From fundraising to behaviour change, communications is key to development work. Our panel explain how to do it better. Sina Odugbemi, senior communications officer (policy), World Bank, Washington DC, USA, @WorldBank:

  • Make a case for development spending: Polls in Europe consistently show that support for development is wide but shallow. This is due to the limited power of emotive campaigns. People need to know if any of their money is doing permanent good or whether the cynics are right. That kind of case-making is, sadly, not done consistently and rigorously.
  • Avoid promoting quick fixes: What that does is provoke disillusionment down the road. We need to discourage young people particularly from thinking complex problems can be solved with a rush of energy and cool new tools. We need to be communicating that many tough challenges will require stamina and sustained effort and commitment.

Is Advocacy Only Feasible in Formal Democracies? Lessons from 6 Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Vietnam

Duncan Green's picture

Andrew Wells-Dang (right) and Pham Quang Tu (left) on how multi-stakeholder initiatives can flourish even in relatively closed political systems such as Vietnam

How can NGOs be effective advocates in restrictive political settings? Global comparative research (such as this study by CIVICUS on ‘enabling environments’) often concludes that at least a modest degree of formal democracy is necessary for civil society to flourish…including, but not limited to NGOs. Yet our experiences in Vietnam, which is commonly thought to be one of those restrictive settings, have shown that there is somewhat more space to carry out advocacy than appears at first blush – if advocates have a clear understanding of the national context and appropriate advocacy strategies.

We’ve seen effective advocacy take place around environmental and health issues through the initiatives of networks of formal and informal actors. At times, such as the disputes over bauxite mining in the Central Highlands (see here and here), networks have gone beyond the ‘invited spaces’ of embedded advocacy to boundary-stretching strategies of blogging, petitions and media campaigns. These actions defy the standard state-society dichotomy, bringing together activists and officials, intellectuals and community groups from around the country. At base is a realisation that social and policy problems are too big and chaotic to be resolved by state or non-state actors alone.